Self Portrait(s) [as Other(s)]

I came by Self Portrait(s) [as Other(s)] via Between Play and Politics: Disfunctionality in Digital Art, one of our assigned readings, and was immediately perplexed. The artist has created 120,000,000 possible recombinations of artists’ images and biographies. Amazing!  I suppose this is the magic of code and database type media.The sheer number of combinations is not the only reason for my vexation.

Edouard Monet: a fictional artist

In a very E. E. Cummings style, even the title has its own possibilities for recombination (Self Portraits as Others, Self Portraits as Other, Self Portrait as Others, Self Portrait as Other, Self Portrait, and Self Portraits) The artwork is a thought-provoking, digitized departure from Brion Gysin’s poetic cut-up style, which might place this work in the box of Surrealism or Dadaism, but I admit to being fearful of categorizing. The cut up style, and especially the narrative biographies and fractured images that result from it, seem to beg for the viewer to toss aside these distinctions and not force the artists to unhappily submit to the pressures of an artistic label. I can say, without guilt, that the work shares some questions/criticisms with the cut up method; questions of authorship. Yes, Memmont wrote the code that generates the portraits and biographies, but he certainly did not create the portraits and may or may not have generated the biographies.

If we place our pointer over the mouth of a portrait a quote comes up. In this case the quote matches the mouth from which it comes; however, the mouth is just one tiny part of the work. There may be a slim chance that the mouth and other parts of the image match, and another miniscule chance that the image matches the biography. In this sole case, identity is completely clear.

Obviously, the artist sees himself in all of these other artists – their successes and failures, falling outs, lives and deaths. Oddly, most of the combinations that I have run into, granted I have not clicked around the artwork 120,000,000 times, have created stories of frustration for the artist. They are forced into artistic movements to which they do not want to belong, they make good friends and then do not talk to them anymore, they get arthritis and can’t work or can barely work. I guess art, authorship, and the cut up method are just downright frustrating, or at least, Memmont might think so.